Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Blight in Tower

City taking the right steps to address a longstanding concern

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It’s no secret that we here at the Timberjay have become increasingly bullish on Tower’s future. With the harbor development now poised to move ahead beginning later this year, and with significant additional new projects now well into the planning phase, there is every reason to hope, and even expect, that Tower is on the cusp of significant economic growth and an influx of new residents and businesses.

In fact, we regularly hear from prospective business owners who would open their doors in Tower tomorrow— if only there were a place to hang their shingle.

It’s a conundrum, of sorts. While Tower’s future looks positive, its current reality is hampered by the lack of vision of some of its existing commercial property owners. As we reported last week, the city of Tower is finally taking action to address the serious and chronic public safety and blight hazards posed by the appalling conditions at the Standing Bear Marina, located on the East Two River, just downstream from Tower’s harbor.

We wish we could report that it was an isolated case, but it’s not. While most commercial property owners in the city do a good job of maintaining attractive and viable businesses, there are a number of troublesome exceptions, all of which rob the city of tax base, prevent businesses from locating in the community, and detract from those business owners and commercial property owners who do make the effort to maintain their establishments.

Most residents are well aware of some of the trouble spots, so we don’t need to mention them here. While the city recently demolished three of the more derelict buildings on Main Street, at least one other building should be added to that list. Three other Main Street buildings, in better condition and with viable commercial storefronts, remain vacant since the owners aren’t willing to rent their first floors to prospective business owners.

That’s not just unfortunate, it’s arguably a violation of the city’s zoning ordinance. While second floor residential use is allowed in some instances within the city’s Main Street commercial district, that is only true if the ground floor is being used for commercial purposes. Otherwise, a property owner must obtain a conditional use permit to live upstairs of an unavailable commercial space. If the owners of those buildings were unable to rent their ground floors, that would be one thing. But that’s not the situation. In most cases, the ground level space that should be used for commercial enterprise has become an extension of residential living quarters or is, more frequently, used for storage.

With Tower now poised for growth, we hope that the recent compliance order issued to the marina is a sign of a new and more proactive role by city officials to begin to address some of the impediments to progress on Main Street.

Moving a community forward requires action on multiple fronts. Creating jobs, providing educational and cultural opportunity, addressing critical needs like child care or medical services, and attracting new investment are all important in that effort. But the community can’t move forward as effectively against a backdrop of blighted or underutilized properties, or an attitude reflected by some in the community that owning commercial property in Tower gives one the right to let it fall into disrepair.

The city is doing its part by making its own critical investments, working with prospective developers, implementing a redevelopment district, and providing funding opportunities like the storefront renovation loan program. If that isn’t enough to encourage commercial property owners to accept their own responsibilities towards the community, the city is well within its right and overall responsibility to take appropriate action.

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